Thoughts on Blackness, Identity & The Power of StoryFebruary 24, 2015
Today, I found an article in Salon about Jessica WIlliams that inspired the piece below. I thought I might use it to frame my talk at Brown University this evening…but then upon arriving, we decided to change the format, opting for a more intimate conversation about my film journey. So I decided to abandon this intro and turn it into a blog post instead. Look forward to hearing your thoughts…
I’m so honored to be invited to Brown University to share some thoughts on race, culture, identity…and the complexity of the Black experience. I was encouraged to learn about all the campus organizing and engagement that’s been happening around #BlackLivesMatter.
I think “Black Lives Matter” is particularly effective as a rallying cry because Black lives and Black bodies have been, and continue to be, marginalized, criminalized, dehumanized, and eradicated ~ with extreme prejudice. And the more I learn about its creators ~ Garza, Cullors and Tometi ~ the more I’m moved by their goal of re-building a more inclusive Black Liberation Movement by affirming all those Black lives whose voices have been traditionally marginalized within our own movement. They are centering the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, mixed folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and Black lives across the diaspora and all along the gender spectrum.
And so this is the goal of our conversation this evening…to think about what it is at stake, and what would it take, to build a radically inclusive movement that draws its Strength from the phenomenally diverse array of Black lives and experiences represented.
I’m always looking to current events to help me frame these conversations. And while the Oscars definitely offered up more than a handful of examples…I found my muse this morning in Jessica Williams—the fierce, fabulous Black feminist correspondent on the Daily Show. There’s been speculation about who would be taking over Jon Stewart’s spot…and the fans on Twitter were loving on Jessica and trying to convince her to take up the mantle.
From SALON (Katie McDonough):
“After a week of intense speculation about who would be taking over “The Daily Show,” Jessica Williams addressed the rumors that she…should be…the heir apparent for host. In a series of tweets, Williams thanked people for the support, but said she wouldn’t be sitting behind the anchor desk any time soon.
[FAST FORWARD to] A little while later, a writer for the Billfold responded to Williams’ announcement with a piece that claimed she was a “victim” of impostor syndrome, and that she needed to “lean in.”
Williams swiftly defended herself against the accusation:
“Are you unaware, how insulting that can be for a fully functioning person to hear that her choices are invalid? Because you have personally decided, that I DON’T know myself- as a WOMAN you are saying that I need to lean in. Because of my choice, you have diagnosed me with something without knowing me at all. For the world to see.”
And with this, Jessica Williams breaks down why it’s highly problematic and insulting when “Lean In” becomes the universal narrative for how we value women’s work, women’s choices, women’s ambition. Whenever a single story becomes the “one size fits all” narrative, it disempowers individuals by erasing their agency.
These are the pitfalls and the Danger of the Single Story. In her TED talk, Chimamanda Adichie pulls the lens back to reveal the mechanics and the machinations behind the Single Story…
It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of power…How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.
Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.
And so it’s this re-centering of the Black experience that I want to talk about today. And I want to take this Meta conversation, and bring it down the most personal level, so that we leave here with a deeply ingrained understanding of what’s at stake when we allow others to tell our stories.
It is absolutely Critical that we find a way – our own creative way — to become the Subject of our own stories, and not the Object of someone else’s. My goal is to complicate this issue of Black identity by speaking specifically about my own experience.
I’ll use my journey to understand the cultural roots of my own Blackness as a jumping off point.
And then, I promise, we will pull the lens back, and talk about why it is imperative that we all find ways to share our stories, and to contribute them to this evolving narrative of the human experience. And why this act of radical self-love is a necessary cornerstone of building a more inclusive Black Liberation Movement…
So let’s jump in, and discuss how we can use our creativity to help us deepen into our understanding of who we are, where we come from, where we belong…
[…and t-h-e-n, we launch into my Talk 🙂 ]